Five Questions with Conor Ward
The Future of Usability Testing: A Cognitive & Behavioural Science approach to UX.
Usability testing used to be an expensive, irregular and mystical dark art hidden behind two-way mirrors with tasty pastries and chunky, soon-to-be-ignored, ring-bound reports.
These days it’s rapid, focused, regular and much more transparent and accessible. What does the future hold for this invaluable behavioural science tool?
In this talk I’ll share how we built our usability lab at British Gas and how we continue to improve it. I’ll share tips and tricks we’ve learned along the way, explain the cognitive science approach we’ve adopted for innovative testing areas like VUI. I’ll also explore new methods on the horizon for the future of behavioural science-based UX research.
Why did you agree to speak at WXG?
One of my roles as a design leader in a very large organisation is to tell others about the fantastic work we are doing. This serves a few purposes, none of which are blowing my own trumpet; quite the contrary. I take every opportunity to give industry recognition to the amazing UX Designers (and product & engineering folk too of course) that we have at British Gas, whilst at the same time helping to attract new top talent to come and join us.
As per the Agile Manifesto, the best method of communication is talking, thus it should hold true that conferences are better than press articles. I chose to speak at WXG because I’ve heard fantastic things from my team, who have been to the past few conferences. I have also been to WXG several years ago as an attendee and I know it’s a great conference, covering interesting and forward-thinking topics across the digital landscape. I’m very pleased to be a part of it!
What do you think attendees will get out of your talk?
Depending on their current approach to user-centric design, they should learn either how to set up a lab, how to ensure they are sticking to behavioural science and cognitive science principles of user research. If they are right up to speed with the latest practices, then they will hopefully be inspired to try some new things and get an insight into where I see lab-based usability testing & user research moving forward over the coming years. Theres some really interesting things on the horizon!
How did you get into your field?
Everyone in UX seems to have a different story on how they got into it. Mine is no less strange. After a computer science degree at university I began a career in improvisational music. I toured the world for many years as part of a band firstly, followed by working for the biggest DJ’s and House music brands in the world. After many years I decided to come back to computers but needed to find a balance of left brain vs right brain activity when it came to loving science, versus art and creativity. Enter UX.
Ever since then I’ve been like a dog with a bone. Is that the right metaphor? Who knows… Either way I’m very pleased with my world, knowing I’m doing the right thing for my users and am always looking for the next thing I can learn in this ever-changing world of experience design.
Who is your inspiration in the industry?
Jared Spool is a great inspiration to me. He pioneered the idea of UX Unicorns, which I am very passionate about and have built a team of these square-shaped specialist generalists at British Gas. In case you are unaware, they are called ‘unicorns’ because they are extremely rare and hard to find. I have written articles about this in the past incase you fancy reading more on the subject.
What advice would you give to someone new to the industry?
Theres so much you can learn out there on the internet. Read articles, follow everyone in your field on Twitter, then read what they are talking about every day. Literally, every day. If you haven’t learned something new every day in your field, then you’re not going to have interesting conversations and ideas that week.
Also, admit that you’re not an expert in the eventual solution you will create, that’s not what being a UX designer is about. You don’t know what the user needs and ‘best practices’ are usually just easy answers that are not contextually relevant. Instead, admit that you are only an expert in the process of finding out what your users need, and then finding a way to continually validate and continually get less wrong with their assistance.
This approach is way more realistic, and actually way more fun. Having the freedom and trust to fail, learn & continually improve is the best environment I can imagine working in. Apart from maybe a bouncy castle.
Conor will be talking at WXG on the 23rd March, 2017